An Assessment of the “Sweating Sickness” Affecting England During the Tudor Dynasty
By Edwin Del Wollert
PhD Dissertation, Oregon State University, 2017
Abstract: While historiography and interest in Tudor England at both the popular and specialist levels presents few signs of diminishing, there may nonetheless exist a sense that we have little left to learn about this period and its culture. A notable gap in our knowledge, however, remains regarding the mysterious disease known only as “sweating sickness” or sudor anglicus.
This dissertation addresses and evaluates this disease from the perspective of the history of science, and in doing so, it makes three key arguments. First, this project examines how the early modern science and medicine known and practiced by Tudor subjects influenced their perceptions of this new disease, leaving them in a mostly helpless position from which to combat it and indeed often wondering if the unknown illness might represent a divine judgment, especially in the form of questioning a dubious claim to monarchy made by the first Tudor ruler, Henry VII.
Second, the dissertation offers a detailed and layered thesis concluding that the disease was ultimately caused by an earlier version of the louping-ill virus, or LIV, a virus and accompanying illness which continued to affect parts of Western Europe, with its own unique strain still extant within Britain.
The third argument will return to the opening statement of this abstract, and reveal how this more thorough and unique treatment of Tudor historiography does much to further our understanding of the Tudors and their citizens, all the more relevant since the “Sweat” even now is typically either mentioned in passing, or not at all, but those who write about this period of history.